SCHOOLGIRLS are being given lessons on how to spot controlling, sexually abusive and violent boyfriends in a ground-breaking new scheme.
The project was created with the help of violent prison inmates and is intended for women trying to escape abusive relationships.
But, amid growing fears over the exploitation of vulnerable girls by older men, it has now been rolled out to 'at risk' high-school pupils, aged 11 to 16, in Hyndburn and Burnley.
Pupils are told the personality profiles of ‘Mr Wrong’ such as the Bully, the Jailer, the Headworker, the Persuader and the King of the Castle.
The aim is to help girls spot 'potential dominators' in the first fortnight of a relationship before they fall into a trape of abuse and exploitation.
Lessons are taking place at the Issac Centre, Ormerod Road, Burnley, and the Oswaldtwistle School, Union Road.
Both are for excluded children, but the scheme could soon be rolled out into mainstream schools.
Concerns over the problem of girls being groomed for sex by gangs of older men were first revealed following a special Lancashire Telegraph investigation in 2005.
It lifted the lid on a sickening scene which saw predatory young men ply girls with alcohol and drugs, before bribing them with gifts in return for sex.
The Lancashire Telegraph launched the Keep Them Safe campaign, which called for action to protect youngsters.
Police, social services and councils have since joined forces to run Operation Engage, a special unit set up to tackle the problem.
At any one time it is dealing with scores of girls.
Oswaldtwistle School headteacher Mark Bocker said there was still 'a very real need' to protect girls in the area from controlling boyfriends, as well as from being groomed and exploited by older men.
He said: “There are many vulnerable girls in this area whom we have major concerns about and prevention is better than cure."
The Freedom Project was created using letters written by men jailed for domestic violence.
They were asked to give tips for their real or imaginary daughter in spotting people who had behaved like them.
Author and former probation worker Pat Craven, who designed the scheme, said once in a controlling relationship, many lacked the confidence to leave.
She said: “There is a very common misapprehension that a woman who has been abused has some understanding of what has happened to her.
"This is simply not true. When a woman is being subjected to abuse she feels that she’s in the middle of a very confusing mess and that it must be her fault.”
Girls are told early warning signs to watch for include:
- • Glaring, sulking or smiling with the mouth while 'glaring with the eyes'
- • Being aggressive with others and not allowing his girlfriend to have her own opinions
- • Wanting to be together all the time and keeping tabs on their whereabouts
- • Claiming to be a victim of domestic violence and to have low self-esteem
- • Often says they ‘would never hit a woman’ for no apparent reason
- • Never using their girlfriend's name, preferring ‘love’ or ‘sweetheart’
- • Patronising any ambitions and pressuring girls to have sex.
Mr Right is said to be cheerful, consistent and supportive, complements your looks and competence, uses your name, trusts you and welcomes your friends and family.
Mr Bocker said he brought in the classes after realising violence was frequently a factor in the homes of children being considered for expulsion.
He said half a dozen schools across Hyndburn were now showing an interest in the scheme. Part of the lessons are undertaken by boys.
“The response has been very positive from both boys and girls," he said.
"We have sex education, why not relationship education?
"If we can avoid sexual exploitation and grooming at the same time, we are killing two birds with one stone."
Hyndburn MP Greg Pope welcomed the scheme. He said: “The Oswaldtwistle School does a lot of good work and really helps people.
"It’s no surprise to me Mr Bocker is extending that to tackle a very serious problem.”
Burnley MP Gordon Birtwistle said: “Education is key.
"It is the naive young people who are targeted and anything that can help them protect themselves should be welcomed with open arms.”